Building better lives

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Building houses for some of the poorest people in the world could help turn an Oranga teenager’s life around.

Seventeen-year-old Gus Sanft heads to Ethiopia next month with Habitat for Humanity, under the supervision of builder Marty van der Burg.

The pair met when Mr van der Burg decided to get to know local youth after setting up a Neighbourhood Support group.

"I just think you can sit back and be judgemental, or you can get to know them and make a difference," he says.

Gus had come to police attention for involvement in violence and gang fights.

"I just used to get into trouble a lot," he says.


The teen turned down the offer to go to Ethiopia at first, but was talked around by family members.

"Everyone was telling me that they would want to go," he says.

"Marty just kept coming around and then my family got into it."

Gus says he doesn’t know what to expect from the trip, but is ready for anything.

The trip will form part of a community service sentence, which will also be served on Habitat building sites in New Zealand.

Mr van der Burg hopes the trip will give Gus a new perspective.

"I really felt quite strongly that he needed to come to Ethiopia," he says.

"He’s a good young guy, and I personally think he’s got leadership potential."

Mr van der Burg has committed to building a house in Ethiopia, at a cost of $2500, for every building project he undertakes in New Zealand.

He led the first Habitat team from New Zealand to the African country last year.

"I wanted to open other people’s eyes and show them the situation for the Ethiopians, but also do something practical, so Habitat was perfect," he says. "The people there are amazing. They’re much more sociable and content, even though they’ve got nothing.

"It just touches your heart in a way you can’t experience here."

The team of 24 volunteers from around New Zealand has been fundraising for the past six months, raising about $70,000.

A further $2300 is still needed for Gus’ costs.

The group will work building mud and rock houses in Debre Berhan, in central Ethiopia, for three weeks from September 20.

And they’ll be equipped with shovels and spades donated by the Western Springs Rotary group.

President Stephen Moorhead says they were impressed by Mr van der Burg’s enthusiasm for the project.

"They’re a group that are really getting on and helping people."

To help with funding, email Mr van der Burg on

Central Leader